Think small talk is just a waste of time? Think again.
Small talk are those informal conversations you have in both your professional and personal circles that don’t cover functional topics (e.g., work related items) or have a specific purpose. However, small talk can be vital to helping you grow your network and strengthen relationships with colleagues and co-workers.
Why is small talk useful for your career?
As technology becomes omnipresent, we are losing the art of conversation. It’s important to be polite and to be able to fill those awkward silences when needed. Being able to converse with co-workers, colleagues and other business people you may not know is a critical skill for high performing professionals. It can help you build relationships on a new team or simply grow your network.
Here are some ways to make a big impact on your career using small talk.
1) Utilize your waiting time.
I travel a lot for work and although I have my ‘speed through airport security process’ down, the several dozen people ahead of me usually don’t. So, instead of checking my email for the umpteenth time, I start up a conversation with another business traveler in line. You would be surprised who you meet. While waiting for a flight from JFK to Denver, I met a food entrepreneur who founded one of my favorite organic breakfast burrito brands and is now a food venture capitalist.
2) Strike up a micro-conversation with a co-worker.
You get to a meeting on time only to find out that the meeting organizer still needs a few minutes to get started. You immediately break out your blackberry and start checking your email. Instead, try to connect with a colleague sitting next to you. Put down any technology in your hands, look your colleague in the eyes and truly listen to him or her. You’ll come across relaxed, genuine and put together. Plus, you’ll build a stronger relationship with a co-worker in time that would have been wasted.
3) Search for commonalities…or create them.
Years ago at my first consulting engagement, there were a few weeks where I was the only woman on the 100+ person project and the least experienced person.
I knew I needed a way to connect with the guys on my project even when more women joined the team. So, each morning I would listen to the radio and catch the highlights of last night’s game. I knew just enough about football, basketball and baseball to understand the key teams and players to talk the talk with the tech guys. It was amazing – all I needed to do was mention a bit about the game and start the conversation. The guys just took it from there. We weren’t best friends, but it was enough for me to break the ice and get included in the mix.
Should men take an interest in women’s issues? Absolutely. If a man is on a team of mainly women professionals, then he should make an effort to figure out what topics his co-workers discuss regularly and take steps to get up to speed in those areas.
The important part about small talk is that it shows you are making a genuine interest in your team members and opens the door for conversation and relationship building.